Film Photography

First roll impressions: Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400

The reader who sent me the Minolta Maxxum 5 also sent me four rolls of film, including two of the original Agfa Vista 400. The last film sold under the Agfa Vista 400 name was rebranded Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. The film I was sent was the older, Agfa-made emulsion. It’s easy to tell one from the other: the older emulsion carries Agfacolor branding, and the newer carries Agfa Photo branding.

Any Agfacolor Vista 400 you come upon is expired. The two rolls I received were always stored frozen, which always bodes well for like-fresh performance.

Boldly, I shot my first roll at box speed in my Pentax ME SE with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens attached. Sadly, I was rewarded with photographs that ranged from slightly to very underexposed. Drat it. Photoshop was able to rescue about two thirds of them. The rest were too faint to be made usable.

I shot most of the roll on an afternoon trip to Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis. They have a quirky downtown area they call the Arts and Design District. This photo of leftover Christmas decorations is one of the least degraded images on the roll, and gives a good sense of this film’s capabilities. The colors are true, but slightly oversaturated.

Red ribbons

This film clearly has a color palette all its own, different from the Kodak and Fuji stocks.

Woman with flowers

The Arts and Design District features several statues of people represented as going about their daily lives. I’ve always found them to be strange and creepy.

Carmel statue

It’s strange to me how some of these images are noticeably underexposed and others aren’t. My past experience with expired film is that it behaves fairly consistently throughout the roll.

Carmel statue

I like how Agfa Vista 400 rendered the neutrals and blacks in this photo.

Monon trail

Bub’s is a Carmel institution. You could smell the burgers grilling for 100 yards in any direction.

Bub's

When I shoot my next (and last) roll of Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400, I’ll dial my camera in at EI 200. That ought to result in better exposures on this expired stock.

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16 thoughts on “First roll impressions: Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Before digital took over everything, I was testing Agfa “chrome” film for possible usage by the studio I was managing. I was pretty impressed at the color, and there was a decent price difference to make it a possibility. I distinctly remember a press release from Agfa saying that they had come into a “break-through” in film emulsion technology that resulted in a new transparency film that was multiple times sharper and finer grain than current competitors transparency film! We awaited this with baited breath, but it never materialized on the market; within months, digital was everywhere! One can only imagine….

    I mention this to remind people that Agfa was a real player in film, and had it’s aficionados for all their different films! We used thousands of their APX100 black and white 120 roll films in our department, and preferred it over most others medium speed 120 films after the death of Verichrome Pan. This is a good time to remind people that when it comes to professional films, and especially color films, the “death date” on the films, is calculated for proper storage! That means they are not guaranteeing professional quality results after that date, even if hard frozen!

    BTW, ditto on the “garish” and “creepy” statues in Carmel. Not cool, or art. As a person with a college education in the arts, I look with trepidation at any well-meaning but clueless, chamber of commerce generated “arts districts”, and Carmel was no different. When I moved to the Indianapolis area, well meaning but unknowledgeable people suggest I go look at it and I might like it. NOT! Most arts districts in most cities are generated by the fact that artists have migrated there due to cheap rents and large spaces. I’m pretty sure that I’d be surprised if any true artists would migrate to an expensive and relatively right-wing community to practice their arts. In fact, when my employment was over with in Indy, I moved back to the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor because the predatory practices of real-estate developers in the Indy market made it almost impossible to find cheap space to work in. The whole community was not “arts friendly”, no matter what the promotional chamber of commerce types want to say. Hipster tchotchke shops do not an arts district make! I’m talking to you, Mass Ave, as well…

  2. Lone Primate says:

    You’re right, there’s something faintly unique about the look you got in that shot of the flower carvings. Meanwhile, that statue outside Joe’s Butcher Shop makes me think of how Queen Elizabeth would look in an alternate reality where Britain’s a Republic. “Liz! Did you remember to buy kippers!” “Yes, Phil, yes! Crikey…” :)

  3. It’s hard to judge expired film. Agfa always had a reputation for muted, ‘muddy’ colours. We used to call it “European” look as it was so unlike the warm, saturated tones offered by Kodak’s consumer films. Oddly enough Fuji went saturated like Kodak, but heavy on the green tones. It was like seeing cultural preference in artistic rendering.

    • Interesting. I never shot Agfa film in the heyday to know this. I was a Kodak man, period. Since returning to film in 2006 I’ve been more open to other companies’ films.

  4. tbm3fan says:

    Probably should have mentioned that I shoot at 200 even though stored frozen. Never know about the few years prior so taking so go -1 stop per 10 years at face value I do that at a minimum. I just finished a roll of expired Verichrome III and exposed at 80 rather than the 160. We’ll see.

    • I’ve had good luck with color film <= 10 years old stored frozen, so I went for broke. I’ll def. shoot the next roll at 200! I have some expired Vericolor III here too, and I shoot it at 80.

    • I’m hinky about expired film for the same reason. I hate to feel like I’ve wasted a roll of film. There are some stocks that last well — the old Kodak slower b/w stocks, for example.

  5. Not bad for an expired 400 film. I bet exposing at EI200 or maybe 100 would yield pretty decent negatives. The photo at Bub’s burgers is the most grainy of the group. The Christmas bow looks pretty good, well done.

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